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Amputation settlement after negligent cancer diagnosis and treatment

Leigh Day client’s sarcoma cancer was misdiagnosed and mistreated leading to loss of arm

Photo of blood test: istock

16 December 2011

Nicola Wainwright, partner in the clinical negligence department of Leigh Day & Co, has secured significant compensation for a client who suffered amputation of his dominant left arm as a result of the negligent treatment of sarcoma cancer.  The compensation will enable our client, Phillip Griffiths, to cover the costs and expenses that he has incurred as a result of the loss of his arm and also ensure that he is able to pay for the maintenance, repair and replacement of his prosthetic arm, to enable him to continue working as a frontline police officer.

A lump developed on Mr Griffiths’ arm just above his elbow in 2002.  He went to see his GP who did not feel the lump was worrying but did tell Mr Griffiths to return if it increased in size or changed.  As the lump did continue growing Mr Griffiths returned to his GP’s surgery and saw another GP.  This GP reassured him, telling him it was nothing to worry about.  He did not give Mr Griffiths any advice about what to do if the lump continued to grow. 

Misdiagnosed cancer

As a result having obtained this reassurance Mr Griffiths did not return to his GPs again until September 2003, when the lump was interfering with the equipment he used at work.  On this occasion the GP did refer him to Consultant Dermatologist, Mr David Crawford, at King Edward VII Hospital.  Mr Crawford arranged for a fine needle biopsy and an MRI scan and the following day proceeded to attempt to remove the lump in Mr Griffiths’ arm.  However, he did not achieve complete removal and therefore Mr Griffiths was referred to the Royal Marsden Hospital, who had to attempt a second excision removing as much of the tumour as they could.  Following this Mr Griffiths required radiotherapy.  Sadly, despite this treatment in May 2006 Mr Griffiths was diagnosed with a recurrence of the cancer and on 21 June 2006 he had to undergo above elbow amputation of his left arm. 

Leading left arm amputation

As a result Mr Griffiths has been left with significant phantom pains, where the arm used to be, which he describes as a constant crushing pain, and also regularly suffers nerve pain, which requires him to take strong painkillers.  The amputation of his arm, has obviously, affected his ability to carry out routine day to day tasks, such as making a meal or tying his shoelaces. He can no longer pick up his grandchildren. It also affected his ability to carry out his job as a police officer covering major incidents in London, including terrorist incidents, public order offences and high profile matters.  However, despite the amputation he managed to start training again and was able to return to the frontline, as the first disabled officer to do so for the Metropolitan Police, for two days a week. 

The claim brought for Mr Griffiths was based on allegations of negligence against his GP for failing to refer him for specialist help, or at the very least advising him to return to the surgery should the lump continue to grow, in July 2002, and against the Trust responsible for the actions of Mr Crawford at King Edward VII Hospital. The claim was brought against the hospital Trust for Mr Crawford’s failure to properly investigate the cancer and to carry out the appropriate procedure to remove the cancer.  Our expert evidence was that a fine needle aspiration is not investigation to establish the nature of such a lump and he should have carried out a full tissue biopsy, which would have revealed the type of cancer he was dealing with.  He should also have considered carefully the MRI scan he took before starting to operate, as if he had done so he would have realised that the lump probably was cancerous and would be difficult to remove.  Knowing the lump was probably cancerous the Consultant should have realised that he needed to completely remove the whole tumour in one piece, with clear margins, which should have been possible.  In fact, he operated without knowing the exact location of the tumour in terms of the surrounding muscles and nerves or whether the tumour was malignant and proceeded to remove the tumour in pieces, leaving parts of it behind. Attempting removal in this way caused the cancer cells to spread into surrounding tissue and made removal of the cancer extremely difficult. 

Mr Griffiths’ claim was listed for trial this November, but finally the two Defendants to the claim, the GP and the Trust responsible for Mr Crawford’s action, came to an agreement and Judgment was entered against the Trust for the amount of compensation awarded to Mr Griffiths to be decided by the Court.  A couple of months later it was possible for all parties to agree the appropriate amount of compensation for Mr Griffiths to enable him to cover those costs and expenses he has been put to as a result of the negligent medical treatment he received.

Nicola Wainwright said:

“This is a tragic case and it is shocking when everybody knows how devastating cancer can be that when Mr Griffiths sought appropriate medical advice he was let down first by his GP and then also by the surgeon who carried out the first operation. Our expert orthopaedic surgeon was shocked that a consultant suspecting he was dealing with cancer acted as Mr Crawford did.  Had Mr Griffiths received the appropriate treatment then it is most likely that the cancer would have been removed in one operation and his arm saved.  It is remarkable that despite this devastating injury Mr Griffiths has been able to get back to work, a feat that I, our experts and the Defendants to this case agree is admirable.”

Mr Griffiths said “I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Nicola Wainwright and her team at Leigh Day & Co for the handling of my case.  Her thoroughness, determination to leave no stone unturned in the investigation of the case brought about a successful conclusion.  I have been impressed by Leigh Day & Co’s empathy, support and professionalism in a complex case which I found on occasion very upsetting.  My congratulations to Leigh Day & Co for your total commitment”.

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